Last week, the federal First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA) was made law following heavy influence from lobby group The Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The new legislation requires bands to post detailed financial information to the federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s website, including a clearly marked section displaying remuneration for Chief and Band Council members.
Speaking about this new legislation, the office for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said that: “This law was put in place to ensure that First Nation members have access to the information they require and deserve about basic financial management practices of their chief and council”.
The reality is that could not be farther from the truth. In practice, First Nations have already been producing this information because all First Nations that have a formal partnership with the federal government are required to. For years, First Nations have been making this information available. All this legislation does is it requires them to be accessed from a central website, something that is in no way helpful for members of First Nations who already had access to this audited financial data. In reality, this legislation is a thinly veiled attempt to leverage public opinion onside with what has been Conservative talking points for years; that First Nations are wasteful and corrupt. Media headlines surrounding the data currently released has been predictable, with most stories focusing exclusively on a few Chiefs who boast ridiculous salaries. Primary among these stories was the nearly $1 million dollar salary Ron Giesbrecht of the Kwikwetlem First Nation. While this figure is shocking, and clearly inappropriate, it is also just one of only a few cases of clear financial mismanagement. These few examples have galvanized public opinion onside Conservatives, while the many more examples of modestly paid or severely underpaid Chiefs are completely missed by a sensationalist media.
The bigger problem here lies in the broader picture of how this federal government treats First Nations. Instead of spearheading initiatives to work with First Nations to establish better living and schooling conditions, or creating cooperatively developed methods to address severe health concerns that disproportionately affect Aboriginal Canadians, the Harper government is always on the assault. They slash funding from areas of dire need, refuse to cooperate or negotiate nation-to-nation, and perpetuate a language and attitude that is confrontational and only serves to appease their base. Even the naming of this legislation is a clear indication of this behavior, the ‘First Nations Financial Transparency Act’ is a deliberately adversarial name developed to feed into destructive discussion that has developed in the media following the legislation receiving royal assent.
This government has failed miserably in cooperating with First Nations to address the concerns and issues facing Canada’s First Peoples. As a nation, we have been repeatedly lambasted by the United Nations for the state of child poverty, hunger, homelessness on reserves and among Aboriginals. As well, criticism has come one our government’s complete inaction on these issues, especially when it came to the Harper government’s unwillingness to formally investigate and address the hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in our country.
It’s time to address these serious issues in a cooperative and constructive way. For Canadians, justice and fairness are not optional, they are universal and unfailing values, and we must be quick to remind those in power of this reality. We need laws surrounding First Nations issues that we can be proud of for generations to come, and as long as Conservatives remain in power, the black mark on Canada on First Nations issues will only grow larger.